Kalkan, the Turkey, is an archetypal Mediterranean harbour town with cobbled alleyways rising from a picture-postcard seafront.
The name means shield in Turkish, after the sizeable four-sided bay at its heart, complete with inky-blue waters fed by mountain springs that keep the sea fresh and crystal-clear.
Strict conservation laws have ensured only sympathy; low-rise development has taken place on the boundaries of Kalkan. However, the old village remains untouched, with the entire region retaining a low-key charm. Surrounding villas and boutique hotels are sensitively built into the natural terrain – sometimes in quite a feat of nature – and blend with the overarching backdrop of pine forest and the turquoise sea.
Small, stylish and sophisticated Kalkan eschews popular misconceptions of Turkey: it is renowned for quality, roof-terrace restaurants and boho beach clubs, which attract a sophisticated clientele throughout the season. The terrace restaurants afford picture-postcard views over the harbour of moored gulets and come alive at night with fine dining against a backdrop of stars, twinkling lights and soft music. By day, Kalkan’s beach clubs attract a chic crowd who spend time relaxing on waterside platforms or playing water sports. Click here to read Top 5 Kalkan Activities.
You can squander many an hour just behind the seafront wandering the small alleys and pausing to peruse high-quality local ceramics, textiles and leather shops. The friendly traders delight in striking a bargain: enter the spirit of bartering by taking a few customary cups of Turkish tea on course to purchase. The colourful weekly market is on Thursdays, with stall holders loudly enticing visitors with their assorted wares, from jewellery to clothes and electrical items. Beyond the immediate foray is a wide selection of fresh seasonal fruit, savoury local herbs and misshapen vegetables.
Dining in Kalkan
Look upwards on Kalkan’s cobbled streets and spy an array of roof terraces that play host to the renowned fine dining scene of the harbour town.
Dining under the milky way is a not-to-be-missed Kalkan experience, and the relaxed atmosphere, quality cuisine, and sea and star views create long-lasting memories. For us, this defines what it is that sets Kalkan apart.
Suleyman Yilmaz Street is a recent but most welcome addition to the Kalkan nightscape. At the rear of the old town, this street is a colourful, eclectic selection of bohemian-style bars and quite superb restaurants. All combine to provide a feast which is not for the eyes alone.
There is something for everyone here, from upmarket, waterfront fish restaurants to simple Mediterranean cuisine in an extraordinary setting. And more simple still an array of Lokanta (cafés) where sitting on floor cushions is not unusual. Ingredients are fresh and locally sourced: the short journey from the field to the table makes each plate zing with flavour. Food is accompanied by high-quality Turkish wines that are just beginning to appear on good sommelier lists in the UK.
Dining starts with an array of small mezze dishes you share with everyone at the table. These either constitute just a starter or the entire meal – generally, when hot mezze appears, it is assumed the main course has begun. Ottoman cuisine is one of the oldest in the world and – unknown to many – is considered one of the world’s major cuisines. It’s beautiful: delicately spiced vegetables take centre stage alongside an array of succulent meats flavoured with fresh herbs.
Kalkan dates from Hellenistic times and is surrounded by fertile agricultural land. Traditionally locals would move up to the mountain villages over the summer to cultivate wine and fruit and return harbour-side for the winter months.
It is worth getting away from the coast and exploring the Taurus Mountains. Indeed we recommend it as a ‘must-do’ experience; driving nowhere through pine and cedar forests, apple orchards and meadows, you will encounter a side of Turkey that few people see.
The closest village to Kalkan is Islamlar, with a traditional tea garden, village square and trout restaurants. Deeper inland still is intriguing settlements such as the rural hamlet of Bezirgan, once a flooded valley, where life has remained unchanged over the centuries. Next, follow the mountain road to Gömbe, which has an impressive inland lake and is the starting point for climbing Akdağ mountain (over 3,000 metres). Continue onwards to the market town of Elmali (which means Apple and the main product of the area) and discover a melting pot of cultural influences: go on a Monday to enjoy the weekly market.
The surrounding mountain scenery is spectacularly lush, with numerous walking trails best enjoyed in the cooler months of May and October.
Kalkan sits at the heart of an ancient Lycian civilisation whose calling card is the distinctive rock-tombs cut into the sides of cliffs running from Fethiye to Antalya. Most of the original six city-states of Lycia lie as they fell, and you can easily explore them from Kalkan.
Just behind the stunning beach and dunes in the National Park of Patara lie the classical ruins of amphitheatre, sarcophagi, basilica and triumphal arch – worth a detour in its own right. And even non-classicists will be hard-pushed to ignore the ancient hilltop fort of Xanthos, which has uninterrupted views over the Taurus Mountains and is one of the remarkable 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. Another is Letoon, a place of worship for the goddess Leto and her twin children, Apollo and Artemis.
In an equally spectacular mountain setting is Pinara, whose ancient amphitheatre rises out of the trees like the stepped pyramids of the Mayan dynasty. Tlos, like Pinara, is one of the original six cities of Lycia and offers an altogether different take as it was inhabited until the nineteenth century.